Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Question Asking and Eye Tracking during Cognitive Disequilibrium: Comprehending Illustrated Texts on Devices When the Devices Break Down

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Question Asking and Eye Tracking during Cognitive Disequilibrium: Comprehending Illustrated Texts on Devices When the Devices Break Down

Article excerpt

The PREG model of question asking assumes that questions emerge when there is cognitive disequilibrium, as in the case of contradictions, obstacles, and anomalies. Participants read illustrated texts about everyday devices (e.g., a cylinder lock) and then were placed in cognitive disequilibrium through a breakdown scenario (e.g., the key turns but the bolt does not move). The participants asked questions when given the breakdown scenario, and an eyetracker recorded their fixations. As was predicted, deep comprehenders asked better questions and fixated on device components that explained the malfunction. The eye fixations were examined before, during, and after the participants' questions in order to trace the occurrence and timing of convergence on faults, causal reasoning, and other cognitive processes.

Some individuals believe that they understand the inner workings of a mechanical device, such as a car or a computer. However, it is often not until a device breaks down or the mechanisms need to be explained that individuals realize how little they know about the inner mechanisms. Everyday knowledge about devices consists primarily of perceptual knowledge of the outer surfaces (i.e., what the device looks like) and the procedures for starting, monitoring, and terminating the device (i.e., how to use it), but not the mental models of the device mechanisms (how it works internally; Graesser & Clark, 1985; Kieras & Bovair, 1984; Rozenblit & Keil, 2002). There is a need for mental models of the device mechanisms when devices break down, but rarely when the devices are functioning properly. Deeper mental models are needed to diagnose malfunctions and discover methods of repairing the devices.

Graesser and Olde (2003; Graesser et al., 2005) have recently reported that the depth of a person's comprehension of a device is manifested by the questions that he or she asks when the device breaks down. Deep comprehenders ask good questions about the likely faults of the breakdowns. College students read illustrated texts on everyday devices that were extracted from David Macaulay's (1988) The Way Things Work. After reading each illustrated text, they were given a breakdown scenario and were instructed to ask questions for 3 min. For example, consider the cylinder lock depicted in Figure 1 and the following breakdown scenario: The key turns, but the bolt does not move. In this breakdown scenario, the person moves the key, and it has no trouble turning, but the bolt does not move back and forth. The students' questions varied in quality during the question-asking phase of the experiment. A good question was defined as any question that converged on the likely faults of the breakdown. A question about the cam would be considered a good question, for example, because it identified a likely fault that would explain the unmoving bolt (e.g., the cam does not rotate, the lip on the cam does not pull the rod). There are many potential bad questions that would not explain the device malfunction, such as questions about the pins rising, use of the right key, or a broken spring; these would be ruled out as plausible faults on the basis of knowledge about mechanical systems. Graesser and Olde reported that deep comprehenders did not ask a larger number of questions but that they did generate a higher proportion of good questions that pinpointed plausible faults. Depth of comprehension was measured in a number of ways, including scores on a subsequent device comprehension test and scores on psychometric tests of technical knowledge that tap mechanical reasoning, knowledge about electronics and general science, and practical knowledge about automobile repair and shop.

Why should questions be diagnostic of deep comprehension when devices break down? According to the PREG model of question asking (Preg is the first four letters of pregunta, the word for question in the Spanish language; Graesser & Olde, 2003; Graesser et al. …

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